JK Rowling, famed Harry Potter author, has recently been posted on twitter about the dangers of voluntourism and orphanage projects. Rowling has founded a charity that seeks to end institutionalization of children called Lumos. The Lumos site states, “Of the 8 million children in institutions worldwide, more than 90% are not orphans. Most have families who love them and want them but they are driven into institutions because of poverty and discrimination on the grounds of disability or ethnicity.” The charity works with stakeholders including governments, communities, caregivers, and families to remove the institution and replace it with a network of support for families. Rowling has been tweeting about voluntourism projects in orphanages and how unwittingly they can be damaging to the children and support corrupt institutions.
While it is important to be aware of the dangers of orphanage volunteer projects the media has been portraying all voluntourism projects as harmful. Equating orphanage tourism as the same as all international volunteer experiences does not paint a clear picture of the field of international volunteerism. There are a lot of community-led, sustainable, and mutually beneficial volunteer projects around the world. A key message to the public is that potential volunteers should educate themselves and research before they embark on a volunteer trip.
There are many quality organizations doing great work in true partnership. There are also organizations, like IVPA, working to create standards of excellence in the field of international volunteering.
International Volunteer Programs Association (IVPA) is a 501c3 nonprofit association dedicated to promoting awareness and access to quality volunteer abroad programs. IVPA member organizations must uphold the IVPA’s Principles and Practices as guidelines for good programming as well as meet stringent membership criteria.